‘Jihadist’ caught

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Friday, July 11, 2014


CEBU (Updated) -- An Australian with suspected links to Islamic extremists and his Filipina girlfriend were arrested by police inside their rented apartment in Barangay Pajac, Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu early Friday morning.

Chief Superintendent Prudencio Tom Bañas, Police Regional Office (PRO)-Central Visayas director, identified them as Robert Edward “Musa” Cerantonio, 29, of Melbourne, Australia and Joean Montayre, 32, of Tipolo, Mandaue City.

Quoting international police sources, Bañas said that Cerantonio is a global advocate of jihad, which is a war fought by Muslims to defend or spread their beliefs.

SUSPECTED JIHADIST PREACHER ARRESTED
FALLEN 'PREACHER'. Australian Robert Edward Cerantonio, 29, is being led out of his rented apartment during his arrest this morning in Barangay Pajac, Lapu-Lapu City. (Screenshot from Police Regional Office 7's video )


“He espouses jihad. Siguro hindi na siya gumagawa ng bomba (he may not make bombs), but then he does the convincing. He spreads the advocacy,” Bañas said in a press briefing.

An Associated Press report also said that Cerantonio was rallying support for militants in Syria.

Police served a warrant of deportation issued by the Bureau of Immigration (BI) after the Australian federal government cancelled Cerantonio’s passport once he was classified as a “person of interest.”

A joint police operation led by Senior Superintendent Conrado Capa, PRO-Central Visayas' deputy regional director for operations, went to the two-storey apartment at 5:30 a.m. with the warrant issued last Thursday night.

The couple was caught by surprise and Cerantonio, at one point, put his hands on the window to show he wasn’t armed.

Just research?

The police searched the whole apartment but found no substance or material that may be used in bomb-making. They only recovered a passport, mobile phones and some documents, which will be further examined.

Bañas said they didn’t recover any evidence that would link Cerantonio to any terrorist acts.

Montayre, 32, Cerantonio’s companion, said the Australian national came to the Philippines to do research about the country’s languages.

Cerantonio is a historian and a linguist and has been in the country for about a year, Montayre told Sun.Star Cebu at the Casuntingan Police Station in Mandaue City Friday afternoon. (Montayre spelled her first name as Joan during the interview with Sun.Star, but the ID obtained by authorities says her first name is Joean.)

Montayre, who hails from Barangay Tipolo, Mandaue City, was detained by the police after a hotel in Mandaue complained that she and Cerantonio had failed to pay their bills. She said she already talked with the hotel’s management to settle the unpaid bills.

Montayre said Cerantonio is vocal about his support for the Muslim uprising in the Middle East, but he is not connected with any terrorist organization.

Video of Cerantonio's arrest this morning. (Courtesy of Police Regional Office 7)

‘Propaganda’

“If you speak the truth, if you talk against America, they always associate you with terrorism. That’s propaganda,” the freelance costume production designer said.

“He’s been here for many months and he didn’t do anything. He is being deported because he overstayed his visa and that’s about it,” she added.

The police told a different story.

Capa said the police learned about Cerantonio’s location last Saturday through the intelligence community, but that they began tracking him several months ago.

“As to where he went and where he was, we can’t disclose that so as not to jeopardize our follow-up operations,” Capa said.

Cerantonio was brought to Manila on Friday escorted by BI and police personnel. He will be turned over to the Australian federal police.

The local police team was composed of PRO-Central Visayas' Regional Intelligence Division, Regional Special Operations Group, Lapu-Lapu City Police Office’s Special Weapons and Tactics group, Explosives and Ordinance Division and a K-9 unit. The BI enforced the deportation.

During the press briefing, Bañas said there was no reason for the public to be alarmed regarding Cerantonio’s arrest, amid security preparations for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit in 2015.

Jihadist caught in Cebu
‘PERSON OF INTEREST’ CAUGHT IN LAPU-LAPU. Police operatives escort Australian national Robert Cerantonio, alias Musa, (second from right) upon their arrival at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila. Chief Supt. Prudencio Tom Bañas, who heads the police in Central Visayas, said that Cerantonio and a Filipina, Joean Montayre, were arrested in their apartment in Lapu-Lapu City. (AP Photo)


‘No threat’

The Central Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), for their part, commended the police for arresting Cerantonio.

“There’s no threat of terrorism here in Visayas,” said Lt. Cdr. Jim Alagao, Centcom spokesperson.

The National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF)-Central Visayas said they appreciated the police’s action, but urged the authorities to respect Cerantonio’s rights.

Malo Manonggiring, NCMF-Central Visayas director, said the police ought to conduct a background investigation on Cerantonio to check reports describing him as a “jihadist preacher.”

“Allegation lang naman yan. Wala rin kaming idea na nandito siya (Those are merely allegations. We had no idea he was here in Cebu),” he told Sun.Star Cebu in a phone interview.

A report in theguardian.com stated that Cerantonio converted to Islam at 17 after a visit to the Vatican left him disillusioned with Catholicism. He was born to an Italian father and Irish mother.

Cerantonio, alias Musa, was calling for jihad and lecturing Muslim Filipinos to support the Islamic State militant group that controls parts of Iraq and Syria, police said. The group is also known as ISIS or ISIL.

ISIS ‘supporter’

A senior police official, who refused to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media, told the Associated Press that Cerantonio was monitored giving lectures on the need to support the ISIS movement in Basilan and Sulu.

The official said authorities were also looking into the possible involvement of Cerantonio in the circulation of an online video showing prisoners inside what appears to be a Manila penitentiary airing their full support to the ISIS movement.

Cerantonio’s online messages reportedly prompted the Australian Federal Police to investigate him for inciting Australians to fight in Syria.

Montayre, however, lamented that the Australian is being treated like a criminal for having many followers on social media.

Montayre said Cerantonio’s activities mainly focus on his language research. “All these things he does online, pakapin lang (he does only on the side),” she said.

“His country didn’t want him at first. When he left, they didn’t want him to come back. They were happy that he left...But now they want him back because they’re afraid he’s going to create an impact in support of what’s going on in the Middle East,” she said.

Sent to Manila

Montayre, who converted to Islam in 2007, said she is the only person the Australian knows in the Philippines. They had only been staying for two weeks in a rented apartment in Barangay Pajac, Lapu-Lapu City when the arrest took place.

Montayre said Cerantonio used to teach in a university in Australia and once hosted a TV show in Cairo, Egypt.

Cerantonio was detained at the Bureau of Immigration in Mandaue and escorted to the Mactan Cebu International Airport past 3 p.m. for his departure to Manila.

She said the Australian is a good person “who can’t even kill an ant.”

Cerantonio did not speak to media while being escorted to the custody of the immigration bureau in Manila. (With an Associated Press report/Sun.Star Cebu)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 12, 2014.

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